Need to do some homework on who you’re emailing? You could search their name on Google, Facebook, or LinkedIn, but on mobile that’s a lot of taps, and it’s hard to know if you’ve got the right John Smith. So Ark has just launched a mobile email client that pulls in all the social profiles of the people you’re emailing so you can quickly do research on business contacts or stalk your friends.
If the Ark name sounds familiar, it’s because the company launched as a people search engine on stage in the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in May 2012. Soon after it raised a huge $4.2 million seed round. The Ark people search engine let you pull up all your friends who live in New York, who are single, or who Like the same band as you. It was built on Facebook’s data and worked a bit like the yet-unlaunched Graph Search…which ended up being a problem. Facebook shut off their access for using people’s friends data in ways that stepped on its policies.
Without its core data set, and with the eventual launch of Graph Search, Ark needed to find a new way to add value. So it’s announcing its pivot into marketing intelligence.
The problem it wants to solve is still in people search, but from a new angle. “When I search your name in Google, it goes ‘I don’t know [who you are], here’s 10 links,'” says Ark CEO Patrick Riley. “We wanted to resolve those entities…consolidating all your profiles into an uber-profile between multiple social networks.”
Why? Because tying together all of someone’s online presences and the public data they hold is very lucrative. Brands and marketers want to know as much about you as possible so they can target you with relevant ads and promotions. They might know your name, or your email, or your Twitter handle, but nothing else. Ark could tell them the rest, though in a relatively respectable way because it only indexes publicly available data.
So Ark is launching an API that helps companies learn more about people. For example, a brand has 100,000 Facebook Likes, but doesn’t know much about these fans. With a list of their names, Ark could bring back aggregate insights about their demographics, locations, interests, and more. Or if a big box retailer had a list of email addresses of their customers, Ark could help it match them to people’s online identities and social presences where they could target them with ads, follow them all on Pinterest, or whatever will help them.
But first it needs more data, and it needs to prove its ability to accurately say that this Facebook profile, Twitter account, email address, and other profiles all belong to this John Smith, not one of the million others.
That’s why Ark used its API to build a mobile email client app for iOS and Android call Ark Mail. Below you can watch a video of Ark announcing its API and launching the Mail app on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF.
You sign up with your Gmail, AOL (TechCrunch’s parent company), or Yahoo, and Ark will pull in all your email into its app from then on. At first glance, it looks like Mailbox. It’s got slick design, batch actions, folder and label support, and handy gesture controls.
Added bonuses include the ability to undo anything, including delivery of emails up to 10 seconds after you hit send. Ark can save you if your finger slips, you forgot that attachment, or you spelled your boss’ name wrong. And for privacy buffs and NSA-haters, Ark doesn’t store your emails on its servers.
“In the post-Snowden world, we don’t want to do it in the cloud,” Riley tells me. “It’s scary to think of a third-party having a copy of all your emails.”
But the real innovation in Ark Mail is that you can pull open a profile for anyone you’re emailing with and see links to all their social profiles so you can research them. You can preview their Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other profiles right inside Ark. That could make your cold sales email more savvy, or your friendly message more personal.
The apps are free and won’t show any ads. Instead, they’ll serve to improve Ark’s data by helping it better associate names and email addresses, and see which emails addresses are still active. It will also generate marketing intelligence sales leads for Ark. Riley explains that he hopes potential clients realize that “if we can make email better, we can make anything better.”
Ark is still working out a few of the kinks in its entity consolidation system. It has a tough time distinguishing between Joe Plumber And Joe Plumber Jr. because they’ll have similar social graphs and might link to each other. It hopes the data it pulls in through the email client will help it get smarter.
When asked whether Ark will ever be able to beat Google in finding information, Riley explains that the world’s top search engine is biased. When you punch in a flight number, it’s happy to give you useful information about whether your plane is on time, but if you search a name, it pimps its own social network even though you’re probably more interested in someone’s Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn profile. “It doesn’t want to send a lot of traffic to other places,” Riley says. “It wants it for Google+.”
So when creating Ark, he asked himself “What would Facebook and Google build if they weren’t at war with each other?” Ark email, along with the API and web-based people search engine its working on, are the answers.
Riley concludes, “I think there’s a need for a search engine that’s looking at social data in a very neutral way. There’s still a case to be Switzerland.”